Monday, November 06, 2006

Handicapping the Race Pt. 1

Bob Novak, one of the more serious Republican Pundits, seems to have called the election, and assigned blame. Unsurprisingly it turns out to have been President Bush's fault.
At Sellersburg in southern Indiana Oct. 28, George W. Bush began 10 days of non-stop campaigning for his party's congressional candidates. That posed a Republican conundrum. Since GOP policy aimed to prevent Democrats from "nationalizing" scattered congressional elections Tuesday, what was the president doing in the national spotlight crowding out House and Senate candidates? Wasn't he playing into Democratic nationalizing efforts?

The approved answer given to me by high-ranking Republican political operatives is that Bush was really furthering the local campaigns and local issues. Actually, the president was trying to change the subject nationally from Iraq to national security. But experienced Republican political leaders privately grumble that Bush has only underscored Iraq as the pre-eminent issue, adding he would have done better to get lost for the past two weeks.

The hard truth apparent to realists in both parties is that, quite apart from what Bush did or did not do, the election has been nationalized around two standards that could not be more unfavorable to the GOP: an unpopular war and an unpopular president. That has generated a rising sense of panic in Republican ranks, with the fear that Tuesday's returns will be either bad or very bad for them.
President Bush is on his way down, and Novak is smart enough to not want to go down with him.

But I can see why President Bush isn't taking a back seat - while he is ideologically driven, it's a very personalized ideology. He has an agenda and he wants to be in a position to push it forward. If he had walked away from this election, even if the Republicans had won, he would have been the loser. Because it would have been a tacit admission of his weakness, and the balance of power within the party would, presumably, have shifted to the Congressional Leadership. And that's not something Bush's ego would have been happy about.

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